One of Football’s most interesting Clubs: Anji MakhachkalaOn the 17th of January of 2011, businessman Suleyman Kerimov, one of the richest people on earth, with an estimated net worth of 7.1 billion Dollars, bought his local football club – Anji Makhachkala. Later it turned out that the Dagestan president, Dagestan is the part of Russia where the city of Makhachkala is situated, gave Kerimov a 100% ownership of the club in return for financial assistance. Kerimov himself is a very controversial man - the billionaire got involved in several lawsuits involving his oil company, Nafta Moskva.
What does somebody like Suleyman Kerimov do with 5.5 billion Euros? I hear you ask, the answer is simple: he owns two Pagani Huayra’s, he had, and crashed, a Ferrari Enzo, he has a 90-metre-long yacht, and he occasionally gets artists like Shakira, Jessie J and Christina Aguilera to sing at his birthday parties. But, besides that, he also donates to charities and he has his own fund. The investment we’ll be talking about though, is the acquiring of Anji Makhachkala.
As I said before, he acquired a 100% stake in the club on the 17th of January. Kerimov promised to turn Anji into the Russian football hub, and his biggest wish was to redevelop the old and dilapidated Dinamo Arena, Anji’s 15.200-seater stadium. Kerimov wanted to turn it into a 40.000-seater which complied with all the UEFA regulations. Not only did he want to invest in the stadium, he also wanted to invest in everything around the club: the training pitches, the city of Makhachkala. All was part of a big plan to turn ”The Eagles”, the club’s nickname, into a modern football club, with a modern, football-orientated city around it.
Currently, Dagestan is exactly the opposite of Kerimov: Dagestan is a very poor area in Russia, and one of the only distractions people have is football. Also, there is a conflict in Dagestan which has been going on for years, for that reason, players and their families live a six-hour-flight away, in Moscow. The only time they go to Makhachkala is when they have to play a game.
In the first weeks of Kerimov’s reign, Anji also strengthened the squad substantially. Players like Roberto Carlos, Jucilei, Ohil Akhmedov and Diego Tardelli joined the club. As a reward for playing for Anji, Roberto Carlos received a Bugatti Veyron from Kerimov in April. This was all normal from the 17th of January onwards. Before that date, Anji was a club doing reasonably well, peaking in the 2000 season, when the club finished 4th. After a long spell in the second division (from 2003 to 2009), Anji returned to the Russian Premier League and managed to finish 11th in the last season before Kerimov.
Then, in the summer of 2011, even more quality players came to the club. In this window, Anji bought the biggest player ever to play for them: Samuel Eto’o joined for 27.5 million Euros. He earned around 425.000 Euros per week, making him the most expensive player ever. In the shadow of Eto’o, Hungarian winger Balázs Dzsudzsák, former Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov and Standard Liège winger Mehdi Carcela-González all joined the club. In the winter transfer window of the 2011/2012 season, more players joined: Oleg Shatov, Christopher Samba and Georgiy Gabulov joined. The club finished 5th, meaning they qualified for the Europa League Qualifiers.
The summer of 2012 marked another host of signings for the Dagestan outfit. Tall striker Lacina Traoré joined from Kuban Krasnodar, Brazilian centre-back Ewerton joined from Corinthians and Lassana Diarra came over from Real Madrid. In the winter, Anji really started to turn into a team that could compete for the Russian championship. The reason? Willian joined from Shakhtar for a record fee of 35 million Euros. Eventually, they finished third, and qualified for the Europa League again. In the Europa League, Anji also reached quite far, getting knocked out by Newcastle in the Round of 16. This is Anji’s best performance ever, masterminded by Dutch manager Guus Hiddink.
At the start of the 2013/2014 season, there was a lot of optimism, as Kerimov had once again invested in new players: Russian starlet Aleksandr Kokorin and defensive midfielder Igor Denisov were both bought from Dinamo Moscow. Also, Christopher Samba joined again, after he had left for QPR the winter before. The team started the season with a great squad, but after only two games, just after all the big names had joined the club, Kerimov decided to drastically lower the club’s budget, resulting in the departure of manager Guus Hiddink, and half of the team: Willian, Eto’o, Kokorin, Denisov, Diarra, Samba, and the list goes on and on. The sales amounted to a total of 180 million Euros, and Anji were left with a recently revamped stadium, the 28.000-seater Anji Arena, a squad that couldn’t win for the first nineteen(!) games of the season, and a massive gap to close to avoid relegation. Newly installed manager Gadzhi Gadzhiev didn’t manage to pull it off, and Anji were relegated with 20 points from 30 matches – the worst last-placed team in the whole of Europe.
Now we’re in the summer of 2014, and the club will need to start all over, without the financial help of billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, who still owns the club but doesn’t want to invest a lot of money anymore. The reason he stopped investing in the club is because the potash market crashed, and he was almost arrested due to being in a conflict with Belarus. Anji will also have to start the search for a new manager, as Gadzhi Gadzhiev was fired at the end of the 2013/2014 season. I will definitely keep a close eye on the club, and see what happens to them as they try to become a stable football club again.
Written by Sergio Galeazzi – Our Russian Football Specialist in the Field.